Blog post about landing my first freestyle windsurfing move

Originally published on June 4, 2012

The Emotional Vulcan

Bird Island Basin on June 3rd, 2012 around 3pm: a few hundred crashes and 370 days after the maiden voyage of my freestyle kit, I landed my first Vulcan, which looks like this:

What a glorious moment—I don’t believe I’ve felt this much joy in a long, long time. I screamed uncontrollably for a full 10 seconds, causing everyone in my screaming radius to drop their sails and look for someone in distress. But there was no one in distress; there was only a boy in red shorts sailing switch in the footstraps, pumping his sail like a crazy person. When I finally changed my stance and let go of my sail on the new tack, I backflipped off my board into the water—it was the only crash in the past year that had been voluntary.

After high-fiving everyone I had ever spoken to (and some that I had never spoken to), I ran into the Worldwinds shop to ask Don if I could finally be in the club now. His response was classic, “What? No, you can’t be in the club. You only landed it once! …But you can apply now if you want.”

So I’m not in the club yet, which means I am not qualified to write a tutorial about the Vulcan, but I do want to mention the proximate piece of advice that helped me overcome the last of my problems, which was that I kept falling into a switch waterstart. Unsurprisingly, just two minutes with Randy at Worldwinds earlier that morning yielded the insight: when sliding backwards, push with the new sail hand, and sheet in only when coming to a stop.

Not that the last few sentences made any sense to anyone except maybe a few thousand people in the world, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I suppose that’s why the staff at Worldwinds are some of the best in the business.

In my journey to land the Vulcan, I’ve also been reminded that I am quite average. When I first got this crazy idea into my head as a goal, I was skeptical of all the reports mentioning how much time and effort it would take even talented windsurfers to acquire this technique (about a year of dedicated sailing and around 200 attempts, unless you happened to be in the Caribbean with perfect conditions). With every step forward, I believed myself to be capable of short-circuiting this rite of passage; yet like clockwork, I found myself succumbing to the same mistakes—the exact ones I had been forewarned of, nonetheless—and going through the individual stages of progress that thousands before me had laid out and even made videos about.

And not that he reads this blog, but I want to thank local freestyle hero Brian Miller for feeding me with zen advice months before I could actually understand and use it. Especially with recent sticking points over the past couple of months, I would suddenly remember random things he said to me last September or October that suddenly started to make sense, and then be able to apply it to get over the next hump. Worldwinds also deserves a lot of credit—the conditions this past weekend were essentially perfect for what I was trying to do, and having a world-class instructor capable of feeding you 2-minute insights is ultimately what pushed me over the edge and into the 1% of windsurfers who have ever landed a Vulcan.

This past weekend’s camping/windsurfing trip has been a microcosmic way to cap off my time in Austin, which after a slow start in burnout limbo until mid-2010, has been about the food and wind communities the past couple of years. On the one hand, it served as a reminder to myself that hard work pays off, and that there is no joy like that of accomplishing your own goals under self-imposed pressure. On the other hand, I’ve been introspective recently about the huge effect that supportive friends and good relationships can have on one’s soul. I know that most of my friends don’t know or care about some random windsurfing move, but I’ve been touched by their unconditional support and empathy as I whined about my frustration over the past couple of months. It makes me want to be a better friend in turn.

Finally, in a ridiculous attempt to make an analogy between the Vulcan and my life, I’d like to conclude by positing the following: just as the Vulcan is a difficult but immensely satisfying way to turn around and go in a new direction on the water, winding up my life in Austin and venturing in a different direction is similarly double-edged. Although it was a difficult decision that required quite a bit of planning and preparation, I trust that what awaits me on the other side is nothing short of sublime: the feeling of mastery, control, and freedom when I’ll finally be able to gaze in that new direction—an entire ocean of possibility, as it were.